Denise Gearan Bilotta, an Anna Maria graduate from the Class of 1969, has a connection to Anna Maria College that defined the rest of her life.
She recalls memories such as watching the Sisters of Saint Anne ride bikes with books in their baskets to stock the library and bus trips to Holy Cross for mixers so Anna Maria girls could dance with Holy Cross boys at a time before the schools were coed. However, her most important milestones came from forming bonds with 8 fellow classmates who remain inseparable to this day and meeting her future husband, Vincent Bilotta at an Anna Maria game night, a love that lasted 54 years until his recent passing in February.
After graduating from a large class at Fitchburg High School, Denise knew that a small college setting intensely focused on education was what she needed next. She was undecided about her future and majored in Sociology since Social Work was not a major available at the time. After earning her degree at Anna Maria College, Denise attended Boston College where she earned her master’s in social work and LCSW and built a career in medical social work.
“One thing I learned from Anna Maria College was how to be a feminist because it was the nuns alone who kept that place going,” Denise said, “Recently I visited campus, and it was an inspiration to drive up and see the college still thriving because of all their hard work.”
Denise’s four years at Anna Maria College were filled with fun memories and love. Halfway through her senior year, she and Vincent married and started building a life and family together. In addition to her wedding ring, Denise also wore her Anna Maria College Class of 1969 ring which featured the college’s original blue and white colors and a medal of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Vincent believed that the class ring should be passed down to another Anna Maria College graduate, so Denise kept the ring waiting for the right person. Over the years she developed a bond with her next-door neighbor’s family friend, Katherine Heffernan ‘23 and was excited when she decided to enroll in Anna Maria College.
“She is a lovely girl, and I was so happy she decided to go to Anna Maria College.” Denise said.
Denise took Katherine out to lunch to celebrate her graduation where Denise gifted her the Class of 1969 ring. The gesture was very symbolic for both generations of Anna Maria graduates.
“I am very impressed by Katherine. She was so gracious in accepting my ring which made it so meaningful for me.” Denise said, “Anna Maria has an amazing alumna now and I am so proud of the college.”
Katherine Heffernan graduated from Anna Maria College this week with a double major in Forensic Criminology and Criminal Justice and a minor in Victimology. This hard-working graduate from Thompson, Connecticut comes from a family whose legacy is centered around law enforcement. While her family serves their community as law enforcement professionals, Katherine has her eyes set on becoming a witness victim advocate and being a support for individuals who need help navigating the legal system.
“Anna Maria College’s Criminal Justice reputation alongside their Fire Science capabilities is what motivated me to join the institution,” Katherine said.
In addition to achieving a heavy courseload and double major, Katherine also completed an internship with Worcester District Attorney Joe Early’s Office where the experience solidified that she was entering the right career field.
“I want to be the one who makes a difference in peoples’ lives as they go through the criminal justice process,” Katherine said.
As a new Anna Maria College graduate, Katherine was very touched by Denise’s gift and will always treasure the ring and the meaning behind it.
“I wish I could have been in class with Denise when she was here in 1969,” Katherine said.
The recent graduate was very involved in Campus Ministry’s Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program and her passion for the missionary experience has opened the door for an exciting opportunity. In September, Katherine will be leaving for Cork, Ireland where she will live for a year doing missionary work by helping those with intellectual disabilities.
Over 50 years have passed in between the two graduations of Denise and Katherine, but the two will forever be connected by Anna Maria College, their purpose for helping others, and a ring that holds a lifetime of memories.